Supporting Responsible Influencer Content: EU’s New Recommendations

On May 14, 2024, the Council of the European Union issued recommendations to enhance the legal and social responsibility of influencers in the digital media landscape. Acknowledging the impact influencers have on the information consumed by EU citizens, the Council outlined a comprehensive approach for the European Commission and member states to support influencers in producing lawful and socially responsible content. These principles aim to ensure transparency and fairness in social media marketing, aligning well with the Council's recommendations to promote responsible influencer behaviour and content disclosure.

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Recognising Influencers’ Impact

The Council’s recommendations stem from the recognition that influencers play a critical role in shaping public opinion and disseminating information across various social media platforms. As influencers gain more prominence, the need for regulatory frameworks to ensure their content adheres to legal standards and promotes social responsibility becomes increasingly crucial. To address this, the Council has put forward several key recommendations, including:

  1. Involvement in Media Policy Development

The Council emphasises the importance of involving influencers in the development of media policies. This inclusion aims to raise influencers’ awareness of their significant role in the media ecosystem and the potential consequences of sharing harmful content. By actively participating in policy-making processes, influencers can better understand the broader implications of their actions and contribute to a more responsible digital environment.

  1. Enhancing Legal Awareness

A major recommendation is to increase influencers’ awareness of the laws governing influencer marketing. The Council calls for making these regulations easily accessible and understandable, ensuring that influencers are well-informed about their legal obligations. This approach seeks to prevent unintentional breaches of the law and promote compliance with established standards.

Linked to this is the need for influencers to behave responsibly and with a degree of media literacy. Influencers must recognise their potential impact on audiences, understanding the effects of sharing misinformation, hate speech, and other harmful content.

  1. Promoting Self-Regulation

To foster responsible behaviour among influencers, the Council encourages the development of self-regulatory mechanisms. This includes urging organizations that represent influencers, such as agencies and brands, to create ethical codes of conduct. By adhering to these self-imposed guidelines, influencers can maintain high ethical standards and contribute to the integrity of the influencer marketing industry.

  1. Addressing AI and Transparency

The Council also highlights the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) by influencers, and notes that there are several requirements in the recent EU AI Act that (when in force) may apply to their activities – including prohibitions on certain AI practices (such as systems that deploy subliminal techniques or exploit vulnerable groups such as children), informing users when they interact with AI systems, and transparency obligations when dealing with AI-generated output. These measures aim to maintain trust and authenticity in the content shared with audiences.

  1. Protecting Minors and Kidfluencers

A significant concern addressed by the Council is the impact of influencer marketing on minors, particularly “kidfluencers” (influencers under 18 years of age). The recommendations stress the need to consider the well-being of young influencers and the potential effects of their involvement in influencer marketing. Safeguarding the interests of minors is key in ensuring a healthy and responsible digital environment.

Implications for the UK and Beyond

The Council’s recommendations follow calls from the European Parliament’s European Economic and Social Committee to harmonise influencer marketing rules across the EU, and the announcement by the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network in March 2024 that it had adopted 5 Key Principles on Social Media Marketing Disclosures, demonstrating influencer marketing remains one of the priority areas for EU consumer protection authorities.

We can expect the Council’s recommendations to resonate beyond the EU, potentially affecting not only the social media platforms themselves but also UK-based influencers, marketing agencies, and clients targeting EU consumers. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has already been keeping a watchful eye on the influencer marketing, with a particular focus on ensuring that ads that include commercial content and appropriately disclosed. The ASA publishes a list of influencers who routinely fail to disclose when they are advertising to consumers on their social media channels.

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